#Cartoon - #Yemen wants Ali Abdullah Saleh OUT!  on Twitpic

Yemen’s president Ali Abdullah Saleh has decided to leave power and hand over the reins of  government to a transitional government  in exchange for immunity from persecution. It seems that Saleh is now, finally , on his way out . What implications this holds for Yemen ? More mayhem perhaps.

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Yemen has long been on the brink of being a failed state . It is an impoverished state which imports most of its food from outside. Its suffers from high population growth and a large unemployed youth population . The sources of revenue for the government are dwindling, with oil reserves running out . Yemen could also be the first state in the world to run out of water. Tribal divisions run deep. Add to that prevalence of widespread Khat intoxication , and you have the prefect socio-economic nightmare .

The problems of Yemen don’t end here. The  country has a large population of Zaidi Shias . These have long been engaged in a bitter conflict with Saleh government . The government has long tried to supress their rebellion , with direct Saudi and covert American help, with little effect.

Al-Qaeda has also been active in Yemen and have frequently attacked government forces. The recent parcel bomb attacks on board FedEx and UPS have originated in Yemen .Al-Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula has publicly identified Yemen as the base for their operations in Saudi Arabia.

Then there is the movement for South Yemen , which aims to create a separate State of South Yemen . This movement, centred in Aden , perceives itself to be exploited and marginalised by the northerners and aims to set it right by creating a separate state of South Yemen.`

This country in short is an almost impossible place to govern. The fact that Saleh was able to hang in for 32 years, is a testimony to the amazing political skills the man possessed. He used every trick in the book to keep these political demons under the lid .Saleh has described his 33-year rule and his power plays with the leaders of the country’s many tribes, as a "dance on snake heads."   But now he is gone and there seem to be nobody on the  Yemeni political scene with the skill and the wherewithal to keep these snakes in check.

The current opposition is held together by a common hatred of the regime and is very likely to disintegrate post Saleh. The various competing interests of the Southerners, the Islamists, the Houthis are likely to ensure a weak government in the days to come.  There are already signs of dissent within opposition ranks . Further none of the opposition leaders have a mass following.

This absence of credible leadership post Saleh would enable the separatist movements to further gain steam . Al-Qaeda is probably already watching with glee the prospect of a weak government at the helm. Yemen with its difficult terrain and proximity to Saudi Arabia will be the perfect base for them .

Regimes like that of Saleh  , for all their brutishness and corruption , have brought stability to historically unstable places like Yemen.  Long entrenched , these have been felled like oaks in a storm by the youth revolt . But the world may soon find out that these youth have little experience in running a country, let alone one as complex as Yemen .

Although this doesn’t justify their continued existence, there is certainly a case for their more orderly phasing out. The sudden demise of these regime might just have left a  vacuum which would be difficult to fill and which ,like all vacuums, would be very destructive to the geopolitical fabric of middle east.

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After the bloody killings on “Great Friday “ , the Syrian government has decided to violently nip these protests in the bud. In a heavy handed response reminiscent of Hafez Al-Assad’s brutal crackdown of the Hama uprising in 1982, government forces have entered the city of Dar’a.

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Though there are no definitive accounts, there are reports of at least 25  deaths. The government forces are reported to be using heavy artillery, light mortars and resorting to indiscriminate firing. The twitter is abuzz with reports of many innocent deaths.

An innocent girl killed in Daraa by the bullet of a government sniper

This is one of the defining moments of this Arab Spring. The revolution which started as a genuine outburst of public resentment against corrupt leaders has started to founder on the ground realities of Middle East realpolitik.

A regime which should have long perished by the weight of its own inefficiencies, is managing to ruthlessly repress popular aspirations and hold onto power by cleverly exploiting tribal dissensions and insecurities. On the other hand, a widely inclusive message which was supposed to be secular and democratic in nature has been hijacked by the fundamentalists painting this as a fight between the heretic and the believer.

In my opinion . Dar’a is fast turning into a battle ground between hardliners of Muslim Brotherhood and the Alawite security establishment. These religious tones of the revolution have crystallized the support of the Army and the otherwise anti-Assad and pro-democracy Alawites towards the Assad regime.

Although the Assad regime has not succeeded in markedly improving the lot of the average Alawi . it is widely perceived as a  safeguard against religious persecution by Sunni Muslims who consider the Alawis as heretics and have historically engaged in vigorous persecution.

The recent outbreak of protests in Dar’a and other towns of the Sunni heartland are widely considered in Syria to be a Muslim Brotherhood conspiracy to enforce a Sunni fundamentalist rule in Syria. In view of these events, the army whose officer cadre is largely Alawi has decided to support the regime in what it largely considers as an existential battle for survival.

This heavy handed response by the Alawite army brass has generated even more resentment among the  Sunni populace. There are unconfirmed reports about the refusal of the largely Sunni rank and file to obey orders to fire on coreligionists. Syria, it seems, is moving rapidly down a fast descending spiral of violence and religious acrimony.

This video purportedly shows Syrian soldiers executed for refusing to obey orders

This is deplorable. The Assad regime has done little good for the common Syrian, Alawi or Sunni . It should have gone long ago. But in in the middle east , the regressive politics of tribe, religion , and ethnicity have long propped up the most brutal tyrants even when they have bled their nations dry.

Syria: Ethnic Questions

April 24, 2011

Syria has entered into a tailspin of political chaos. The Assad regime has brutally cracked down on the protests of “ Great Friday “ causing much bloodshed and a lot of resentment among the populace.

This brutal repression has been widely condemned by the world community. But what is missing in the misty eyed analysis of the Syrian revolution is a proper understanding of the sectarian nature of the revolt.

Syrian population is composed of various ethnicities and religions . The Sunni Arabs dominate the population but there are sizeable numbers of Alawites, Druze , Christians and Kurds.

This is a mainly Sunni revolt against the minority Alawites. The revolt has thus far been restricted to mainly Sunni towns and has found little or no resonance in the Alawite , Kurd or Druze areas of the country .

The below map is a map of the old French protectorate of Greater Syria. During those times the boundaries of the various governorates corresponded with ethnicities. The State of Damascus and the State of Aleppo were predominantly Sunni Arab whereas the Druze and the Alawite had their own separate provinces , the State of Jabal ad-Druze and the state of Alawites respectively.

And this is a map showing the location of the protests currently happening of Syria.

map_of_revolustion 15.04.2011

As is plainly visible , that most the blood is spilled in the area of the old provinces of State of Damascus,  the Sunni heartland of the country. This essentially Sunni nature of the revolt is bad tiding for a country like Syria. If the regime falls, there could be widespread jockeying for power between the various ethnic groups which might very quickly descend into strife or worse, civil war.

It would be wrong to see the various uprisings in the Arab world as identical uprisings of the disgruntled youth against corrupt leaders. These revolts had very different meanings in different places. In Syria , it is about a natural correction in a distorted power structure. A correction which is propelled by the vested interests of people who have very different aims than the idealistic youths of the Arab street.